Damsel In Distress, or, Who Needs Directory Assistance? (In Two Parts)
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Heather Stimmler-Hall in Around Town

Directory assistance used to be “12”, but then it was considered a monopoly so the service was opened to competition and everyone has a six-digit number now. I can never remember what any of them are. I should program them into my phone, or erase something useless from my memory to make room. But alas, maybe the high price of information is what keeps me from making an effort. Besides, I’m convinced I don’t need it. Two examples that back up my theory:

Part One: I love my Bike 

So I’m riding around on my bike taking neighborhood photos for an assignment because it’s the first sunny day in a week and the deadline is coming. I don’t take my bike out often, it stays locked up in front of the police station most of the time. So maybe the chain needs greasing. But anyway, I’m riding along, trying to take pics without stopping, not really paying attention while I change gears, and the chain jams. In front of the National Assembly.

NationalAssembly.jpg
The last photo I took before the chain got stuck.

The guards watch me get all greasy until I finally stand and turn around. I can usually get the chain out, but this is well ensconced. “C’est coincé?” one of them asks. I let the 6’2” strapping young kepi’d guard give it a go. “You’ll have to take the wheel off,” he says sadly. I try and give him one of the hand wipees I have (they’re actually Clorox stain removal towelettes, but today they’re multitasking), and start walking the bike back to Invalides a block away, where there’s a bike shop. That I can’t find. I ask at a sandwich shop where the bike shop used to be. “It’s gone!” says the owner, a bit too gleefully. I tell him my problem, and he recommends I go to Decathlon at Avenue des Ternes. “The 17th?” That’s like, 30 minutes on foot minimum.

I go back outside and consider locking it up and coming back with tools later. But it was supposed to rain the rest of the week and I couldn’t ride it home that way, even if I could fix it. Not that I’m afraid of getting wet, but some meanie stole the mud guards off my bike over the summer (they’re plastic clip-ons because I have a cross-bike, so they’re pretty easy to pop off even when the cops are right across the street) and I didn’t want a stripe of black Parisian street water on the back of my Champagne-colored trench coat. So I think, there’s gotta be bike shop closer than Avenue des Ternes. But I can’t recall the Directory Assistance number, and am suspicious they’d give me the address of the one place that doesn’t do repairs. So I try calling all of my friends to see who’s in front of their computer. David answers his phone first (it’s lunchtime in Paris) and when I ask him to look up a bike shop in the 7th, he says “Why don’t you just go to a gas station and ask for a wrench?” I start to ask where I’m going to find a gas station at Invalides, when I realize there’s one right in front of me. Underground, to be precise.

So I head down with my bike into the Vinci parking garage. First there’s a gas station and the little boutique. I see little wrenches for sale for €10. But I eye the cashier and wonder if he’ll have one I can borrow instead. I explain my problem and he puts on some plastic gloves (I need to remember to steal some of those) and tries to pull it out, but manages to jam the front tire as well. He recommends I go to the workshop in the back of the parking garage. Promising enough, there are five young men standing around trying to look busy. I ask if any of them could help me with the chain, and one manages, finally, to pull it out. I buy a candy bar at the shop and pedal happily home.

Part 2: I love my Bank 

Two days later, when it’s raining heavily, I’m at the train station trying to buy a ticket to Marly-le-Roi, a lovely suburb of Paris. I don’t have enough coins to pay in the machine, but I can’t find my bank card, either. I rarely use it, so I’m pretty sure I left it at my bank's automatic deposit window. I was so impressed that France finally caught up to the outside world (I’m sure I was depositing my checks into the ATM at my US bank back in high school), that I walked off without waiting for the card. I just hoped no one had “wandered off” with it. Already late, I skulk over to the end of the long line at the window and I have no idea what my bank’s telephone number is, and again can’t recall directory assistance (in my defense, I tried two different configurations that prove to be wrong). So I call Gentry. She’s walking Napoléon. “Can you texto me my bank number when you get home?” I give her the details and before I’ve even reached the window to pay with my €50 bill, I hear the buzz of the phone message inbox. I call the bank from the train, and of course they have my card (whew!) I probably could have waited to look up the number and call from home, but since I was sure no one was cleaning out my account, I could enjoy a relaxed lunch in the countryside. ;)


MarlyleRoi.jpg
The adorable old village of Marly-le-Roi.

 
Who needs the directory assistance when you have friends? 
I love my friends best of all!
 
Article originally appeared on The only authentic insider guide to Paris. (http://www.secretsofparis.com/).
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